How should we respond to suffering? This is a question that all of us have faced, will face, or are in the midst of right now. The 90’s alternative band R.E.M. captured this reality in their song, “Everybody Hurts.” But while they perfectly captured the reality of suffering, they were unable to offer real hope to their listeners. The message of the song was that you should find some comfort in the fact that everyone experiences pain and hold on in the midst of it. While this may be helpful, it is not Gospel-hope.
The apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls us to respond to suffering in a much different way. In fact, it is such a counter-intuitive response that it can only grow out of true Gospel-hope. Here’s what he says in 1 Peter 4:12-19.
· Don’t be surprised by suffering (v. 12).
· Rejoice in suffering (v. 13).
· Count yourself blessed when you suffer for Christ (v.14)
· Don’t be ashamed of suffering for Christ (v. 16)
· Glorify God through your suffering (v.16)
· Entrust your soul to your faithful Creator while doing good in the midst of suffering (v. 19)
That last exhortation is the root of all the others. Only those who entrust their souls to God will be able to rejoice in suffering and count themselves blessed. Only those who abide in Christ will count suffering with Christ all joy. Only those who see Him as their greatest treasure will still glorify God when earthly treasures (money, possessions, health, comfort, & reputation) are stripped away. Only those who see God’s lavish grace and mercy toward them in Christ will continue to do good for His sake when suffering.
Suffering is neither fun nor easy. But it is part of God’s loving plan for our ultimate good. This is why Paul says in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” God grants suffering as part of our growth and maturity. It helps us know the surpassing greatness of Christ and the superior satisfaction we experience in Him.
The missionary martyr, Jim Eliot, understood this. This is why before he ever left for the jungles of Ecuador, he penned the words that have since become the battle cry of many believers: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”